Trump administration says giving confidential Census information to ICE is open to ‘debate’

An internal Justice Department email appears to realize undocumented immigrants' fears over a citizenship question.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) ICE agents in Central Islip, New York on March 29, 2018. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) ICE agents in Central Islip, New York on March 29, 2018. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Fears over President Donald Trump’s push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census appeared to be realized in an email from his administration that surfaced on Friday.

Information from the Census — which counts every person in America, including undocumented immigrants — containing “personally identifiable information about an individual” can’t be released for 72 years.

However, NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang reported on Saturday that Trump’s administration thinks this federal law could be subject to “debate.”

According to an internal Department of Justice (DOJ) email that was included in a court filing from one of the many lawsuits over the citizenship question, DOJ officials said providing confidential citizenship information to law enforcement could “come up later for renewed debate.”

“I don’t think we want to say too much,” officials from DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in response to Rep. Jimmy Gomez’s (D-CA) questions about whether federal law would be followed with census confidentiality.


Despite admitting they would “not directly address the question” in their internal email, DOJ officials told the California Democrat that the law would be followed.

Undocumented immigrants are understandably wary of providing any information to an administration that has gone out of its way to target brown people, including legal immigrants.

Even a study commissioned by the Census Bureau determined that the proposed question, which asks whether the respondent is a U.S. citizen, might be a “major barrier” to an accurate count during the decennial census. Numerous participants specifically cited the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a deterrent for filling out the census. ICE is reportedly detaining around 45,000 people per day under Trump.

ThinkProgress has explained the potential consequences of Trump’s administration tinkering with the census.

An undercount might also disproportionately affect blue states with large immigrant populations, inflating Republican representation and under-representing marginalized populations in Washington and at the state level.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has led the push to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census. Ross enlisted former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former White House adviser Stephen Bannon, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in his efforts.


Trump’s administration is facing several lawsuits over the citizenship question. The White House has fought to keep Ross from being deposed.

The Supreme Court blocked a deposition of Ross last month.